Zone of Death (geography)

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The Zone of Death (highlighted in red) is defined by where the borders of Yellowstone National Park (highlighted in green) overlap the borders of Idaho, in the southwest corner of the park

The Yellowstone Zone of Death is the name given to the 50 sq mi (129.50 km2) Idaho section of Yellowstone National Park in which, as a result of a loophole in the Constitution of the United States, a criminal could theoretically get away with any crime, up to and including murder.[1][2][3][4][5]


The court district governing Wyoming is currently the only court district in the US to have jurisdiction over land in other states. This is due to the fact that all of Yellowstone National Park, which includes parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, is part of the Wyoming judicial district. Any criminal discovered to have committed a crime in that district would usually be brought to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where the court for the Wyoming district is. However, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution decrees that a trial must happen both within the district and state of where the crime was committed. Because of this, a crime committed in the "Zone of Death" would be constitutionally required to be tried in and include only jury members from the Zone.

However, because the area of Yellowstone in Idaho is uninhabited, a jury cannot be assembled and the criminal would be unable to have a fair trial, meaning that they could not receive any legal punishment for major crimes.[6]


The constitutional loophole in this area was discovered by Michigan State University law professor Brian C. Kalt while he was planning to write an essay about technicalities of the Sixth Amendment, which entitles citizens to a fair and quick trial. Kalt wondered about a hypothetical place where there were not enough eligible citizens to form a jury and theorized that there could be no trial and therefore no punishment for major crimes in that area. He later realized that there was such a place: the Idaho section of Yellowstone National Park. Horrified by his realization, Kalt shifted his focus to writing an essay about the area to persuade the government to fix the loophole. The essay, which is called "The Perfect Crime", was published in 2005 in the Georgetown Law Journal. Kalt feared that criminals might read the essay and commit a crime in the Zone before the loophole was fixed.[7]


After Brian Kalt discovered the loophole, he worked to have the government close it. He suggested to lawmakers in Wyoming that the Zone of Death be included as part of the nearest Idaho judicial district instead of the Wyoming district to fix the issue. However, the lawmakers ignored Kalt's suggestion. In 2007, author C.J. Box wrote a novel called Free Fire that featured the Zone, which Box hoped would increase governmental awareness. The novel did succeed in alerting Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi to the issue. However, Enzi was unable to convince Congress to discuss it.[7]

No known felonies have been committed in the Zone of Death since Kalt's discovery. However, a poacher named Michael Belderrain illegally shot an elk in the Montana section of Yellowstone. While that section of the park does have enough residents to form a jury, it might be difficult to put together a standing and fair one due to travel or unwillingness of members of the small population there to serve. A judge ruled that Belderrain should be tried in the nearest Montana district rather than the sparsely populated Wyoming district. Belderrain cited Kalt's paper "The Perfect Crime" to explain why he believed it was illegal to have his trial conducted in a different district than where the crime was committed. The judge disagreed, and Belderrain pleaded guilty before a trial in either district could be conducted.[8]


  1. ^ Ednor Therriault. "Myths and Legends of Yellowstone". Google Books. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  2. ^ Zint, Bradley (22 April 2016). "'Population Zero,' debuting at film festival, explores the Zone of Death". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  3. ^ "Murder in majestic Yellowstone". The Denver Post. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  4. ^ "MSU LAW PROFESSOR DISCUSSES YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK'S "ZONE OF DEATH": Michigan State University College of Law". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  5. ^ Andrews, Robin (26 November 2017). "A Legal Loophole Might Let You Get Away With Murder In Yellowstone". Forbes. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  6. ^ Kerry, Wolfe. "Yellowstone's Zone of Death". Atlas Obscura.
  7. ^ a b "Inside Yellowstone's 'Zone of Death' Crimes Can't Be Prosecuted". HowStuffWorks. 2017-10-17. Retrieved 2019-06-11.
  8. ^ Bohn, On behalf of Fausone; Monday, LLP on; November 10; 2014. "A "Zone of Death" in Yellowstone National Park?". Fausone Bohn, LLP. Retrieved 2019-06-12.

Coordinates: 44°17′N 111°04′W / 44.29°N 111.07°W / 44.29; -111.07